Get busy living: CFOs must embrace technology to thrive

There's a terrific moment in the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption," where the character, Andy Dufresne, says, "Either get busy living or get busy dying."

Healthcare faces exactly that same choice today, and hospital C-levels, including CFOs, have a significant opportunity to "get busy living" by embracing the power of technology to help cut costs, prioritize and optimize patient payments, and promote long-term business success.

Indeed, technology's importance to success in healthcare cannot be understated. A recent article in Becker's Hospital CFO positioned the potential of executives wearing the combined hats of chief financial officer (CFO) and chief information officer (CIO) in healthcare from retail and other industries. Merging finance and technology responsibilities into one executive position, the article stated, will benefit organizations by closely aligning IT with overarching business and financial strategies.

Whether the trend will take off in healthcare remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that hospital revenue cycle leaders face major new realities, and they must begin to work cohesively with technology to succeed from a business perspective.

New realities for revenue cycle leaders
Every hospital and health system in America today is focused on managing costs, and for good reason. While it's hard to predict revenues, most hospitals have razor-thin margins, and the best way to deal with them from a business perspective is to manage costs—they are the one thing that CFOs can reliably and consistently control. To do this, technology and automation are an organization's best bet and will always provide the most reliable and predictable outcome. By leveraging technology, a CFO can gain complete visibility into the inner workings of his or her revenue cycle to make key improvements and make big impacts on cash flow.

This is why today's CFOs should look at technology not as a cost, but as the most effective path toward efficiency, revenue gains, better margin control and improvement. Technology is "the safe bet"—a partner for hospital CFOs who view it as an investment in cost savings and future business achievement.

Technology for managing the fastest growing revenue stream
Patient revenue is a perfect example of how CFOs with an IT-focused mindset can thrive. Two-thirds of a hospital's revenue is fixed, making that portion of revenue harder to improve. Hospitals aren't in control of what insurance companies pay them; they're not in control of what insurance companies reimburse them. But hospitals are in control of their relationship with their fastest-growing revenue source—their patients. That's the one area where hospital CFOs can leverage technology to streamline the business office and influence patient behavior, thus generating better patient payment results.

If a hospital CFO can't easily identify how many payments are coming in through the billing office, financial counseling, a bank lockbox or their patient portal, then he or she doesn't have enough information to make adjustments to improve. For example, if he or she doesn't know how many patients pay between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., versus between 8 a.m. and noon, then he or she can't make the necessary adjustments, leaving the collection of an increasing part of the hospital's revenue stream to chance.

Today's CFO is a proactive CFO
Technology and consumers' demand to manage their own healthcare, are accelerating at a fast clip; hospitals must be proactive about taking steps to meet this demand. The Amazons, Netflixes and other companies that are winning consumers over are winning because they embraced technology early on—especially from a revenue and cost-control perspective. Companies that are losing, meanwhile, are losing because they embraced technology too late—by the time they did, their customers had moved on to other options. The same result is happening to hospitals.

In some ways, this is new ground for many hospitals. Leveraging powerful technology in the revenue cycle is such a new phenomenon, especially around patient payments. Revenue cycle inefficiencies are things that most CFOs didn't have to think about when they were "growing up" in the business 10 years ago. Now, they need to think about how technology can help them reliably generate revenue while repurposing saved time toward more important tasks, such as patient care or customer service—things that are going to keep patients coming back and keep their doors open.

Indeed, those CFOs who embrace a technology-centered mindset and make the case that the way we did things yesterday will not work any longer will be those best positioned to help their organizations "get busy living", in tomorrow's healthcare world.

Bird Blitch is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Patientco. Follow Bird on Twitter at @BirdBlitch.

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